It happened. You knew it would, but you didn’t think it would happen so quickly. In spite of any hope you had of slowing down the clock, you woke up one day to find that your child is not so childlike anymore. Suddenly, hormones are raging, romantic feelings are developing, and, of course, it doesn’t stop there. Before you know it, your teen may be entering the dating world.
For many, raising a teenager is the most intimidating chapter of parenthood. Discipline becomes increasingly difficult and may feel impossible to maintain. It’s tough to know when to set rules and when to give freedom, when to bend and when to stand firm, when to intervene and when to let live.
Communication is often one of the trickiest minefields to navigate. It’s a struggle to know what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. These conversations and decisions only become more challenging when the time comes for your teen to start dating. As we near the end of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, we want to remind parents how important it is to do their part to help prevent teen dating violence and promote healthy relationships.
If you are a parent to a blossoming teen, consider discussing these crucial aspects of relationships with your child before he or she enters into a relationship:
1. Define a Healthy Relationship
Be sure to teach your teen about the foundations of a healthy relationship. Explain that a healthy relationship comes from respect, mutual understanding, trust, honesty, communication, and support.
A relationship should consist of healthy boundaries that are established and respected by both partners equally. A good partner will accept you as you are, support your personal choices, and praise you for your achievements. A healthy relationship also allows both partners to maintain outside interests and friendships, and does not hinder the personal freedom of either partner.
2. Describe the Different Types of Abuse and Associated Warning Signs
There are many different types of abuse your teen should be aware of before entering into a relationship. These include physical, emotional, sexual, financial, and digital abuse, as well as stalking.
- Physical abuse occurs when a person uses physical force to harm another, but need not result in visible injuries to qualify. Hitting, kicking, pushing, biting, choking, and using weapons are all forms of physical abuse.
- Emotional abuse can take the form of insults, humiliation, degradation, manipulation, and intimidation. Emotional abuse can involve forced isolation, coercion, or use of fear or guilt to control or belittle.
- Sexual abuse involves any act that directly or indirectly impacts a person’s ability to control their own sexual activity and the conditions surrounding it. It can take many forms, including forced sexual activity, using other means of abuse to pressure one into an activity, and restricting access to condoms or birth control.
- Financial abuse is a form of emotional abuse that uses money or material items as a means of power and control over another person.
- Digital abuse is any form of emotional abuse using technology. A person may use social media, texting, or other technological means to intimidate, manipulate, harass, or bully someone.
- Stalking is persistent harassment, monitoring, following, or watching of another person. These behaviors can be difficult for teens to recognize as abuse, as they may sometimes see it as flattering or believe the other person is engaging in such behaviors only out of love.
If you’re feeling unsure about how to teach your teen to distinguish between a healthy and unhealthy relationship, or if you would like additional resources on the warning signs of relationship abuse or promoting positive relationships, consider visiting loveisrespect.org.
Loveisrespect is a nonprofit organization that works to educate young people about healthy relationships and create a culture free of abuse. Its website offers a wealth of information for teens and parents and provides 24/7 support via phone, text, or chat.
3. Explain the Differences between Lust, Infatuation, and Love
Distinguishing between infatuation and love can be difficult for many adults; imagine how complicated it can be for a teenager who is experiencing many new feelings for the first time. Take a moment to explain to your teen that attraction and desire are physiological responses that can occur separately from emotions.
Make sure he or she understands that infatuation is not the same as love. Infatuation may give us butterflies, goose bumps, and that “can’t eat, can’t sleep” type of feeling, but it isn’t the same as love. Love takes time to grow, whereas infatuation may happen almost instantly.
4. Talk Realistically about Sex
While it may be tempting to skip this conversation, it’s in everyone’s best interests to talk to your teen about sex. Ask yourself whether you want your teen to hear this information from you or someone else.
On its website, the Mayo Clinic suggests turning the topic into a discussion rather than a presentation. Be sure to get your teen’s point of view and let your teen hear all sides from you. Discuss the pros and cons of sex honestly. Talk about questions of ethics, values, and responsibilities associated with personal or religious beliefs.
5. Set Expectations and Boundaries
It is important to set expectations and boundaries you have now regarding your teen dating rather than defining them through confrontation later. Let your teen know any rules you may have, such as curfews, restrictions on who or how they date, who will pay for dates, and any other stipulations you might have. Give your teen an opportunity to contribute to the discussion, which can help foster trust.
6. Offer Your Support
Be sure to let your teen know you support him or her in the dating process. Tell your teen you can drop off or pick up him or her, lend a compassionate and supportive ear when necessary, or help acquire birth control if that fits with your parenting and personal philosophies. However you intend to support your teen, make sure he or she knows that you are available.
7. Use Gender-Inclusive Language that Remains Neutral to Sexual Orientation
When you open the discussion with your teen about relationships and sexuality, consider using gender-inclusive language that remains neutral to sexual orientation. For example, you might say something like, “Are you interested in finding a boyfriend or girlfriend?” rather than automatically assuming your teen has a preference for the opposite sex. Deliver this language with genuine openness and love.
By opening up the possibility of being attracted to both genders right away, you will not only make it easier for your teen to be open with you about his or her sexual orientation, but you’ll likely make your teen feel more comfortable with his or her identity, regardless of who your teen chooses to date.
8. Be Respectful
Most importantly, be respectful when talking to your teen about dating and relationships. If you communicate with your teen in a gentle, nonobtrusive manner that respects his or her individuality, opinions, and beliefs, then your teen will be much more likely to do the same for you. This helps to create a healthy and open line of communication between you and your child and ultimately could improve your teen’s self-esteem.
9. Know When to Ask for Outside Help
There is help available if you’re struggling to talk to your teen about dating and sexuality. In addition to our advice, there are numerous resources available online to help you start a constructive conversation. Additionally, if your teen is experiencing relationship problems and/or your talks about relationships aren’t going well, consider finding a family therapist who can help mediate the conversations and promote emotional intelligence and healthy behaviors. Teaching your kids what it means to be in a healthy relationship is simply too important of a message to leave to chance and may even save his or her life someday.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014). Sex Education: Talking to Your Teen about Sex. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/sexual-health/in-depth/sex-education/art-20044034
- Types of Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.loveisrespect.org/is-this-abuse/types-of-abuse
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